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Letter about Guy Fawkes
Shakespeare, King Lear
English arrives in North America
King James Bible
Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
First English dictionary
The Globe Theatre
Shakespeare's First Folio
John Donne, Poetry
Jonson, The English Grammar
Areopagitica by John Milton
Confessions of Charles I's executioner
Advert for a quack doctor
Marvell, 'An Horatian Ode'
Early A - Z of London
Samuel Pepys' Diary
A cure for the Plague
The Fire of London
John Milton's Paradise Lost
Aphra Behn, The Rover
Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
Habeas Corpus Act
Advert for a Rhinoceros
Account of a shipwreck
Written between 1599 and 1601, Hamlet is widely recognised as one of the most powerful plays in the history of English theatre. It is a revenge tragedy that revolves around the agonised interior mind of a young Danish prince. In the first Act, the ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him, revealing that he has been murdered by Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. Claudius has subsequently married Hamlet's mother and claimed the throne.
The suspense is built upon a central question: when will Hamlet take revenge for his father's murder? But the prince, throughout the play, seems emotionally paralysed and, in turn, tortured by his inability to take action. The fact that Hamlet continually delays taking revenge for his father's murder is the key that opens up Hamlet's inner thoughts to the audience.
Hamlet is unpredictable, manipulative, misogynistic ('Frailty, thy name is woman'), indecisive, testing his relationships with his mother and Ophelia to destruction; and yet he is capable of deep contemplation on the nature of human existence, examining the relationships between life and death, action and inaction, fear and fury, inward emotion versus physical violence, and performance versus reality. These concepts are perhaps explored most eloquently in the famous soliloquy that begins 'To be or not to be'.
Ham. To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrowes of outragious fortune,
Or to take armes against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: To dye to sleepe
No more; and by a sleepe to say we end
The heart-ake, and the thousand natural shockes
That flesh is heire to; 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wisht, to dye to sleepe,
To sleep perchance to dreame, I there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreames may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortall coyle
Must give us pause, there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life:
For who would beare the whips and scornes of time,
Th' oppressors wrong, the proud mans contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the Lawes delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurnes
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When as himselfe might his Quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels beare,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life?
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd Countrey, from whose borne
No traveller returnes, puzzels the will,
And makes us rather beare those ills we have,
Than flye to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards,
And thus the native hiew of resolution
Is sicklied ore with the pale cast of thought:
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their currents turne awry,
And lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The faire Ophelia, Nimph in thy Orizons?
Be all my sins remembred?
Ophel. Good my Lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?
Ham. I humbly thanke you, well.
Ophel. My Lord I have remembrances of yours,
That I have longed long to re-deliver,
I pray you no receive them.
Ham. No, not I, I never gave you ought.
Ophel. My honour'd Lord, you know right well you did,
And with them words of so sweet breath composed
As made these things more rich: their perfume lost,
Take these againe: for to the noble minde
Rich gifts waxe poore when givers prove unkind.
There my Lord.
Ham. Ha, ha, are you honest?
Ophel. My Lord.
Ham. Are you faire?
Ophel. What meanes your Lordship?
Ham. That if you bee honest and faire, you should admit no discourse to your beauty.
Ophel. Could beauty my Lord have better commerce
Than with honestie.
Ham. I truly, for the power of beautie will sooner transforme honestie [?] - what it is to a baud, than the force of honestie can translate beauty to his likenesse: this was sometime a Paradoxe, but now the time gives it proofe. I did love you once.
Ophel. Indeed my Lord you made me beleeve so.
Ham. You should not have beleev'd mee, for veertue cannot so evacuate our old flocke but we shall rellish of it: I loved you not.
Ophel. I was the more deceived.
Ham. Get thee a Nunry, why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am my selfe indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things, that it were better my mother had not born me: I am very proud, revengefull, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give the shape, or time to act them in: what should such fellowes as I doe crawling